Silver Mines of the Coeur d’Alene River

Greater Coeur d’Alene Mining Region

Not many people realize how important the Coeur d’Alene Mining Region is to our national economy and the numerous benefits derived from the silver, lead, and zinc mined here. The Coeur d’Alene Mining Region, which is roughly four miles wide and twenty miles long, ranked first in the annual production of silver being mined in the world for many years. The top four silver mines in the United States are right here in this little valley.

Some old tales suggest that placer gold may have been mined from the general area in the early 1800s, perhaps by traders and trappers. However, recorded production in the district did not start until 1884.

Through 1994, over five billion dollars worth of metals has been mined and recovered here. Thus far, the district has produced over one billion ounces of silver. That amount of silver would make enough silver dollars to more than girdle the earth at the equator. See also The Wallace To Murray Road Trip.

It is believed this silver production surpasses any other mining district in the world.  In addition, we have produced more than 8 million tons of lead, a half million ounces of gold, more than 3 million tons of zinc and almost 2 million tons of copper. See also: “Silver City, Ghost Town in Idaho.

Production continues in the district at the rate of more than $30 million recovered precious metals annually from only a limited number of producing mines. The annual future silver production for the region is projected to total more than six million ounces from known reserves.

Mine reserves are traditionally replaced on a 1:1 basis by systematic exploration and development work in each of the producing mines. With the replacement of mine reserves on a continuing basis, it is believed the district may continue to produce as long as metal prices and environmental regulations allow hard rock mining to continue.

Most of the early production came from the long wide persistent veins found in the Mullan, Burk, and Kellogg areas. A few small prospects up Big Creek, McFarren, Rosebud, and Lake Gulches produced small amounts of silver and lead from shallow workings. The ore shoots, however, were irregular, discontinuous, and small. In comparison to the other mines of the district, these latter occurrences appeared relatively insignificant. For information on historic Wallace in Idaho, check out this post.

Continuing work up Big Creek was leading to developing a highly rich silver vein (the Sunshine mine 1700 level in 1931). By the year 1937, the Sunshine Mine had become the largest known producer of silver from any mine in the world.

Continued exploration and development in the Sunshine area found other large silver-rich veins in the immediate vicinity. Exploration and development currently continue on several of the lower levels in the mine. I heard that the Sunshine Mine by itself has produced around four times as much silver as all the mines in Nevada’s Comstock district together.

In the late 1940s deeper exploration was started on the prospects up Lake Gulch; this work led to the development of the second largest silver mine in the United States, the Galena Mine. More recent work in the Shields gulch developed the Coeur Mine, which became the nation’s fourth-largest producer of silver for a number of years.

These developments have established this one-mile wide and six-mile long area as one of the most persistent and silver-rich mining areas ever found anywhere in the world.

A geologic study suggests the Lucky Friday Mine, located about a mile east of Mullan and approximately nine miles east of the known Silver Belt, may actually be along a westerly continuation of the Silver Belt. That doesn’t sound right, does it?  Actually, it is correct because millions of years ago, a major fault shifted the Lucky Friday Mine almost fourteen miles easterly from where the ore originally formed.

Other silver rich mineral occurrences continue to be found along the projections of the Silver Belt and it is believed other rich silver deposits will be found in the future along this trend, should favorable economic conditions persist.

The Lucky Friday Mine is a good example of how some of the newer silver mines were developed. The original mineral discovery was made by the old-time prospector with his pick and shovel about the turn of the century.

The early prospectors slowly dug pits and tunnels in the hard rock exposing thin seams of oxidized minerals containing small amounts of valuable metals. This type of work continued until 1921, at which time activity ceased. The property remained idle in 1938.

A shaft was started in 1939 and by 1941, ore had been discovered 300 feet below the top of the shaft.  Exploration and development continued, but it wasn’t until almost twenty years later that sufficient ore had been developed to call the Lucky Friday a real mine–50 years after the original discovery. The Lucky Friday was the top silver producing mine in the United States in 1983 and 1985.

The discovery and development of most of the currently producing silver mines in the District have followed a somewhat similar sequence of events. Check out also this article about Teresa Anthony who rebuilt historic Hanson in Kentucky.

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